Insider’s guide to volcano skiing in Chile

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I sat down with Cristian and Guido, our local guide, and drew up the ultimate volcano itinerary. Climb and ski off the top of seven volcanoes in 12 days!

A guest post by Phil Smith from Snoworks Ski Courses (organises trips to Chile and Argentina in August and September). This post was originally published on snowjobz.co.uk.

If someone had said to me I would be standing on the top of a live volcano looking down into the centre of the earth with bubbling lava one minute and then skiing off piste in perfect snow the next I would have thought they were crazy. Yet here I was doing exactly that.

Chile is a country of startling contrasts, which, on average, is more than 2,700 miles long, the equivalent distance from Edinburgh to Baghdad, and never more then 150 miles wide with some of the most active volcanoes in the world.

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Chile's Lake District seen from Volcan Villarica. Photo by Phillie Casablanca
Chile’s Lake District seen from Volcan Villarica. Photo by Phillie Casablanca

I first started my adventures in Chile 10 years ago when I was lucky to meet a good friend Cristian Levy. Cristian runs his own Chilean tourism agency based in Temuco in the centre of the lakes and volcano district. I was familiar with Valle Nevado and Portillo, the main Chilean ski destinations, but Cristian persuaded me there is a totally different side to skiing in Chile.

Corralco, Araucarias, Pucon, Huilo-Huilo, Antillanca and Osorno are ski areas very few skiers have heard of, so when I took my first group there 10 years ago needless to say I was pretty apprehensive.

Villarrica volcano hike in Pucón, Araucania Region, Chile
Villarrica volcano hike in Pucón, Araucania Region, Chile. Photo by lisa_aw

We’re used to The 3 Valleys and the Espace Killy with hundreds of ski lifts stretching in every direction. Here, we were travelling halfway around the world to ski in resorts with only one or two ski lifts! You have to be joking I thought. Nervous was an understatement. I had persuaded some of my guests to take three weeks off work and part with a fair chunk of their income to ski in a resort with two lifts!

My worries were totally unfounded, this was a totally different type of ski experience. The scenery spectacular, the hospitality overwhelming, the skiing totally different and the opportunity to ski from the top of live volcanoes!

Every year we have added to and amended the itinerary and shaped it into the ultimate Chilean skiing experience designed for skiers from limited or no off-piste experience to off-piste experts. But each year as I travelled around the lure of the volcanoes was overwhelming. I had always managed to get to the top of one or two within our itinerary, but volcano skiing is addictive and I wanted more!

So I sat down with Cristian and Guido, our local guide, and drew up the ultimate volcano itinerary. Climb and ski off the top of seven volcanoes in 12 days!

So here were the seven volcanoes: Antuco, Lonquimay, Villarrica, Mocho, Choshuenco, Casablanca and Osorno.

Lonquimay, Chile
Lonquimay. Photo by Pato Novoa
A view of volcanoes - Llaima (front), Tolhuaca (left) and Lonquimay (right).
A view of volcanoes – Llaima (front), Tolhuaca (left) and Lonquimay (right). Photo by Dave Lonsdale

Lonquimay

If you think one volcano is the same as another, think again. Every one is different. Different shapes, scenery, summits and different history. Lonquimay,  our second destination, last erupted around the early 90’s and left a new massive crater half way up the original volcano. Our first visit to Lonquimay was six years ago and I have since fallen in love with the place. Jose, the local volcano specialist and governor of the local school is always on hand to welcome us.

We stay in a lodge at the base of the volcano surrounded by araucarias trees and I am not exaggerating when I say we have the place to ourselves. So I was worried about only having two ski lifts! Lonquimay only has one main lift! But when you’re faced with untracked powder, no other skiers and a chairlift to yourself! Need I say more?

The climb to the summit is pretty tough for those with no experience, but for hardened ski tourers four hours will get you to the top and onto the massive crater. The ski down is always exceptional snow as it’s south facing. Don’t forget we’re in the Southern Hemisphere so it’s the other way around. There are numerous ways down but the best is straight down the south face.

Villarrica, Chile
Villarrica. Photo by e d o
Villarrica, Chile
Villarrica. Photo by i.canete
Villarrica volcano hike, Chile
Villarrica volcano hike. Photo by lisa_aw
At the summit of Villarrica volcano, Chile
At the summit of Villarrica volcano. Photo by DoNotLick
View from the top of Villarrica - the Lanin volcano in Argentina
View from the top of Villarrica – the Lanin volcano in Argentina. Photo by DoNotLick

Villarrica

Next to Villarrica. This is one of the most famous volcanoes in Chile and last erupted around 2000. We have managed to get most of our clients to the top of this, even non-ski tourers. With the skis strapped to your backpack you can get to the top between three and five hours.

The scenery from the top is spectacular and as the crater is open so you can literally see the lava spitting out. You cannot fail to be mesmerised with molten lava on one side and perfect snow on the other! There are numerous routes down and if you get the timing just right you can be skiing down in the sunset.

Choshuenco volcano, Chile
Choshuenco volcano. Photo by mireyapeters

Mocho and Choshuenco

On to the national park of Huilo-Huilo and volcanoes Mocho and Choshuenco. Up to this point you could easily be forgiven if you have thought it cannot get any better. But Huilo-Huilo is the most amazing place I have ever been to. Again we have the mountain to ourselves, private trucks to take us through the national park to the base of the volcano and our own snow cat to get us as high as possible.

Huilo-Huilo has no ski lifts! Yep you heard right, no lifts. But who needs lifts when you have your own private snow cat. From where the snow cat drops us it’s only a short one hour hike to the top of each volcano and from there the whole area to yourself.

Casablanca

Drop down south and onto our last two volcanoes. Casablanca is a ski resort with four ski lifts so this is big and crowded! I must have counted at least 20 other skiers! This was a totally different experience and again the drive up, the scenery and the skiing spectacular. The hike to the top of the volcano takes between three to four hours and even for non-hardened ski tourers is easy. The skiing down is awesome and again just pick your route and enjoy.

Moonrise over Osorno, Chile
Moonrise over Osorno. Photo by pellaea

Osorno

Last of the seven volcanoes and one of the most spectacular, Osorno. Driving along the valley Osorno looms high and ominous and there is no escaping its glare! Guido was right when he said he left the best to last. We arrived at the base early and again we had the ski resort to ourselves. The skin up took four  hours, but this was different to the others as 300 metres from the summit the slope angle changes from 30 to 50 degrees.

The last section has to be negotiated with crampons and ice axes.

The ski down was spectacular and as we arrived at the bottom for some hard earned cerveza’s, you could not help thinking that skiing would never be the same again. The land of volcanoes had us hooked.

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Insider’s guide to volcano skiing in Chile was last modified: October 27th, 2016 by Oonagh Shiel
Author: Oonagh Shiel (3408 posts)

Content Manager at Cheapflights whose travel life can be best summed up as BC (before children) and PC (post children). We only travel during the school holidays so short-haul trips and staycations are our specialities!